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Global agreement critical: longer we wait, harder to change course, more it will cost

By NDP MP Megan Leslie      
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As 2014 drew to a close, the focus on climate change sharpened. In Lima, Peru, a conference to set the stage for a 2015 global agreement in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions met with limited success. But there was still reason for optimism.

South of the border, Barack Obama has made climate change his legacy issue. Following mid-term election losses, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a surprise agreement with China on climate change. The two countries announced emissions reductions targets for 2030, with China promising major reductions and the U.S. setting a new target of 28 per cent by 2025. Collaboration to broker an agreement in Paris was unprecedented.

A global agreement is critical: The longer we wait, the harder it will be to change course, and the more it will cost. The temporal window we have in which to reign in GHG emissions is closing, and once it does, we may be doomed to catastrophic climate change.

Globally, emissions in 2011 were 150 times 1850 levels.  The 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1997.  Yet we blithely continue our titanic voyage towards an avoidable disaster, while the iceberg, (perhaps what’s left of the polar icecap) looms.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report. It was unambiguous: climate change is being felt, it’s accelerating, and it’s a result of human activities.

The IPCC calculated a “carbon budget” for the planet, or how much carbon we can emit while keeping average global temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C over pre-industrial levels, the tipping point for the climate.  The bad news? We’ve already spent over half of that budget, and we’re on track to blow the whole thing by 2030.

None of this is a surprise.  We’ve known for decades we needed to act, but we’ve lacked federal leadership.

The Liberal government signed agreements, made commitments, promised regulations, and then delivered next to nothing.  

The Conservative government, since being elected in 2006, has wavered between implementing a cap and trade system and denying climate change even exists.  They bray on about reducing emissions, but the truth is, only provincial action, a recession, and a change in global GHG accounting rules have resulted in domestic emissions declining.  Frankly, the only thing this government can take credit for is the recession.  

So in an election year, anyone who cares about this issue should think long and hard about what will happen to the climate – and to Canada – depending on who wins the next election.

New Democrats get it.  We have introduced legislation to force the federal government to develop a plan to meet science-based targets to reduce emissions, and to hold government to account if they miss them.  We will work with all levels of government to ensure Canadian communities are prepared for and are able to respond and adapt to climate change impacts.  We are committed to weaning Canada off fossil fuels and to re-direct subsidies to foster the development and marketing of new and existing renewable energy technologies, to ensuring that Canada becomes a leader on energy efficiency and conservation, and promotion.  We’ll collaborate to ensure infrastructure, planning, and transportation are upgraded and developed to reflect not only current challenges, but to reflect best practices. 

Unlike the Liberals, the NDP is more than “just-a-bit-better-than-Harper” on climate change.  We will not blindly sign agreements or make commitments while dragging our feet on implementation.  Anyone who was following climate change before 2006 knows that Canada’s international reputation as a laggard at international climate negotiations did not begin with the election of Stephen Harper. Liberal governments were panned as obstructionist. 

Justin Trudeau is a strong supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will contribute to Canada’s GHG emissions. And as recently as December 19th, speaking to the National Post, he rejected cooperation with the NDP, saying the two parties are “miles apart”.

Commenting on the oil sands in the Globe and Mail in April 2014, Mr. Trudeau revealed his approach to climate change as essentially a public relations exercise.  Opposition to the oil sands “…is a failing of both government and industry for allowing that to happen because they weren’t doing enough to reassure people that the environment is a priority.”

Canada needs a government that is serious about climate change.  We need a government that actually does the right thing, not one that makes it look like you might.

For New Democrats, protecting the environment and the future of the planet is the priority.  Advertising and false promises are not enough.

 Unlike the Conservatives, New Democrats won’t wait for Canada to be dragged along by US regulations, we won’t rely only on the provinces to act, we won’t promise regulations one day only to deny climate change the next. 

And unlike both the Conservative and Liberal governments, we won’t sacrifice Canada’s international reputation for domestic political ambitions.  The greatest disservice we can do to those who have traditionally lived in, fought for, and those who will inhabit Canada when we’re gone, is to fail to ensure it will be as sustainable, prosperous, habitable, and beautiful as it was when we ourselves took charge. 


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